6 Ways to Get Off the Beaten Track in India

Go beyond the Golden Triangle in India and discover untouched islands, quaint hill stations, and historic cities where few foreigners go.

Dunggon Samten Choling Buddhist Monastery Photo © Getty Images/Emad Aljumah

In 2022, 7 million tourists traveled to India. With such a figure in mind, it can be difficult to imagine that there really are places to go in India that are well off the beaten path. But the secret beauty of this country is that one moment you can feel in the middle of all the hubbub only to turn a corner and enter into the unknown. 

Luckily, the millions of visitors to the nation tend to all congregate in what is known as the Golden Triangle – Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. While there is definitely something to be said for these cities, much of the magic of the country is to be found away from the non-stop tourist hustle. Taking a leap off the well-worn path may seem daunting at first, but the benefits of the more authentic experience are certainly worth exploring. 

Here are six ways to get out into this massive country and see some of the myriad wonders that India has to offer. 

1. Island time

There is no question that Goa is India’s most popular beach stop and after a few minutes on its picturesque beaches there is no wonder why. But with beauty and accessibility come the tourists, the chains, and the lingering question of whether or not paradise has been tainted. If you want to really get away from it all the Andaman Islands, closer to Myanmar than India, are famous for their untouched beauty, clear-blue seas, and abundantly lush hillsides. 

Of course, there are more accessible beach options on the mainland, but the trip to the Andamans promises natural beauty undisturbed. The Galapagos of the East, the isolation of these islands has resulted in the evolution of dozens of endemic animal species, including 32 mammals unique to the islands, and some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world. 

2. Follow the locals

If cultural immersion is what you are after, then heading to the spots favored by the locals is a fascinating look at how Indians holiday. Yes, this path maybe a little more worn but it is worn by a different set than the packaged Euros. Generally, the locals tend to favor destinations that allow a break from the heat by heading to the cool and quaint hill stations. 

An ever-popular Delhi getaway is Shimla. Only a few hours from the metropolis, Shimla is a relic of the British rule and an unexpected colonial town with panoramic mountain views. As it is the number one destination for Indian honeymooners you can expect crowds, but of love-struck Indians rather than bused-in Germans.

Located in Rajasthan, another popular hill station is Mount Abu. Set around a picturesque lake, Mount Abu is known for providing relief from the Rajasthani heat, and boasting loads of Jain Dilwara temples…as well as many vacationing Gujaratis. 

3. Go to Gujarat

Speaking of Gujarat, this large state on India’s Western coast is one of the least visited and most highly rewarding. Famed for being one of India’s wealthiest states, the dearth of foreign tourists and incredible geography make this stop well worth it. Exploring Gujarat could mean heading to the Portuguese seaside town of Diu, seeing the palaces in the university town of Vadodara, or taking in the salt plains at Little Rann. 

Gujarat provides a window into a side of India that is far from the snake-charmer stereotype. Mix in the delicious vegetarian fare and the statewide prohibition laws and you have yourself a very unique locale conveniently nestled en route from Rajasthan to Mumbai but far from the well-blazed trail. 

4. Travel by train

Most travelers to India are visiting on group tours of the packaged variety. While it may be a little daunting to navigate the nation on your own, just heading out without a tour guide means you’ll get farther off the path than most. The simplest way to make your own way is to forego the luxury tours and scenery-missing flights and travel by train. One of the leftover signatures of British colonialism is the nationwide railway network, which today transports roughly 13 million passengers daily.

While journeys between big cities can be taxingly long (it’s 16 hours from Delhi to Mumbai), train travel can take you all over the country – on journeys short or long – and give you a taste of authentic India in the process. A much-recommended journey is the toy-train to and from Shimla. 

5. Find the middle ground

As is the case in the USA, India’s coastal states tend to attract the most tourists. It is certainly nice to navigate the country’s periphery but if you want to go where few tourists venture, head to the country’s middle. Southern India has popular inland spots including the historic city of Mysore and cosmopolitan Bangalore; or try inland cities of the north like Khajuraho which yields the famed Kama Sutra carvings. 

6. Head to the northeast

Difficult to get to, but isn’t that true for all the best places? Tucked between Nepal and Bhutan, the West Bengal Hills are home to rolling hillsides, stretching tea plantations, and the famed city of Darjeeling. 

Take in nature’s beauty on treks through Singalilia National Park with views over Nepal and the Himalayas; ride a historic toy train through the hillsides; spend days lazing around Darjeeling and enjoying the mix of Buddhist temples and colonial buildings. This state is also home to Calcutta, where most of the tourists head, so leave the trail and head north. The unpaved path awaits. 

With a country of such magnitude and marvel these six suggestions only scratch the surface. India is so vast and so nuanced that getting off the beaten path can be as subtle as taking the less-traveled Delhi street or as bold as heading into a sleepy snow-covered mountain town. Carve out the trip that you want, get out of the cities as much as possible, and look for those shimmers of the real Indian spark. The untouched is all around, so go explore it. 

About the Author

Elena is an American writer who lived in Thailand for two and a half years after graduating from Princeton University. She writes and blogs about travel and culture for sites including travelfish.org. She currently lives in New York City. Follow her on twitter @eleshepp

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  • Azhar said

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  • Manisha Singh said

    Some great tips. Andaman islands are absolutely gorgeous and I'm surprised by how few tourists visit it.

  • Simran said

    Calling West Bengal North-East and calling Bangalore and Mysore sounds wrong. If you want to talk about northeast, then you should really mention the seven sisters and the pristine forests and rich biodiversity they have, not to mention the the mind-blowing diversity in cultures and languages of the people there. If you don't want to talk about the actual northeast, then just call your last section West Bengal.

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